It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I congratulate Nigel Huddleston on calling this very important debate. I will not go through the detail he laid before us.
It is clear that puppy smuggling is a problem that has grown significantly in the past few years. Let us be clear that the pet travel scheme—PETS—has been a great boon to many pet owners, enabling them to take their much-loved pets around the continent without the need for quarantine. I think there is broad consensus that the 2012 relaxation and harmonisation of the rules governing the scheme made it even easier to take pets across borders. However, in a country such as the UK, where for many years demand for puppies has outstripped supply, that was always going to increase the risk of smuggling activity on the part of unscrupulous dealers ready to make cheap money out of a grossly unethical and cruel trade.
Illegal puppy smuggling involves poor breeding practices and sometimes appalling conditions, with many of the puppies suffering disease. The hon. Member for Mid Worcestershire laid out the detail on that very well. Many puppies are not properly vaccinated and false certification of the animals as they are sold on to unsuspecting individuals here in the UK is a key part of the illegal trade.
If we are serious about animal welfare and committed to preventing the suffering of such animals, immediate action is needed to improve enforcement of the pet travel scheme. It is clear that we need tougher penalties for those caught illegally importing dogs. We have waited a long time for the Bill that would allow for five-year sentences for animal cruelty offences and my key question to the Minister is: when will we see that Bill? If the Government do not publish it and have its First Reading, they should let a Member do it via a private Member’s Bill. We can do it quickly—in a day—if we have the will. The focus on enforcement must also be shifted away from the ferry companies and Eurotunnel to Government agencies, with visual checks of dogs entering the country.
I will leave it at that. I do not have much time and others want to speak. I want to hear the Minister’s view, particularly on those animal cruelty sentencing powers.